|Born||Edward Joseph Snowden
June 21, 1983
Elizabeth City, North Carolina, US
|Residence||Russia (temporary asylum)|
|Employer||Booz Allen Hamilton
Kunia, Hawaii, US
(until June 10, 2013)
|Known for||Revealing details of classified United States government surveillance programs|
|Home town||Wilmington, North Carolina|
|Criminal charge||Theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person (June 2013).|
|Awards||Sam Adams Award|
National Security Agency surveillance
Map of global NSA data collection
Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer specialist, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who disclosed up to 200,000 classified documents to the press. Details released from the cache have revolved primarily around the NSA mass surveillance program, and to a lesser extent, its counterparts such as the British, Israeli, Canadian, Australian and Norwegian secret service agencies.
Snowden's release of NSA material was called the most significant leak in U.S. history by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. A series of exposés was published in June 2013 revealing Internet surveillance programs such as PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora, as well as the interception of US and European telephone metadata. The reports were based on disclosures Snowden leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. By November 2013, the Guardian had published 1 percent of the documents, with "the worst yet to come".
A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor, and a patriot. According to Snowden, his "sole motive" for leaking the documents was "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." The disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.
- 1 Background
- 2 Media disclosures
- 3 Temporary asylum in Russia
- 4 Criminal prosecution and investigation
- 5 Reaction
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Childhood, family, and education
Edward Joseph Snowden was born on June 21, 1983, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. Friends and neighbors described Snowden as shy, quiet and nice. One longtime friend said that he was always articulate, even as a child. His father, Lonnie Snowden, a resident of Pennsylvania, was an officer in the United States Coast Guard, and his mother, a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, is a clerk at a federal court in Maryland. His parents are divorced, and his father remarried.
By 1999, Snowden had moved with his family to Ellicott City, Maryland. He studied at Anne Arundel Community College to gain the credits necessary to obtain a high-school diploma but he did not complete the coursework. Snowden's father explained that his son had missed several months of school owing to illness and, rather than return, took and passed the tests for his GED at a local community college.
Snowden worked online toward a Master's Degree at the University of Liverpool in 2011. Having worked at a US military base in Japan, Snowden was reportedly interested in Japanese popular culture, had studied the Japanese language, and also worked for an anime company domiciled in the US. He also said he had a basic understanding of Mandarin Chinese and was deeply interested in martial arts and, at age 19 or 20, listed Buddhism as his religion on a military recruitment form, noting that the choice of agnostic was "strangely absent".
Snowden has said that in the 2008 presidential election he voted for a third-party candidate. He has stated he had been planning to make disclosures about NSA surveillance programs at the time, but he decided to wait because he "believed in Obama's promises". He was later disappointed that Obama "continued with the policies of his predecessor". For the 2012 election, political donation records indicate that he contributed to the primary campaign of Republican candidate Ron Paul.
Several sources have alleged that Snowden, under the pseudonym "TheTrueHOOHA", authored hundreds of posts on technology news provider Ars Technica's chat rooms. The poster discussed a variety of political topics. In a January 2009 entry, TheTrueHOOHA exhibited strong support for the United States' security state apparatus and said he believed leakers of classified information "should be shot in the balls". However, in February 2010 TheTrueHOOHA wrote, "I wonder, how well would envelopes that became transparent under magical federal candlelight have sold in 1750? 1800? 1850? 1900? 1950?"
On June 17, 2013, Snowden's father spoke in an interview on Fox TV, expressing concern about misinformation in the media regarding his son. He described his son as "a sensitive, caring young man...He just is a deep thinker". In accounts published in June 2013, interviewers noted that Snowden's laptop displayed stickers supporting internet freedom organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Tor Project. Snowden considers himself "neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American".
On May 7, 2004, Snowden enlisted in the United States Army Reserve as a Special Forces recruit but did not complete any training. He said he wanted to fight in the Iraq War because he "felt like [he] had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression." In an email to The Guardian the US Army confirmed his enlistment as Special Forces recruit and said he was discharged on September 28, 2004. The email said, "He did not complete any training or receive any awards". Snowden stated that this was the result of breaking both of his legs in a training accident.
His next employment was as a National Security Agency (NSA) security guard for the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland, before, he said, joining the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to work on IT security. In May 2006 Snowden wrote in Ars Technica that he had no trouble getting work because he was a "computer wizard". In August he wrote about a possible path in government service, perhaps involving China, but said it "just doesn't seem like as much 'fun' as some of the other places".
Snowden said that in 2007 the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for maintaining computer network security. Snowden described his CIA experience in Geneva as "formative", stating that the CIA deliberately got a Swiss banker drunk and encouraged him to drive home. Snowden said that when the latter was arrested, a CIA operative offered to intervene and later recruited the banker. Swiss President Ueli Maurer said it did not seem likely "that this incident played out as it has been described by Snowden and by the media". The revelations were said to be sensitive as the Swiss government was passing legislation for more banking transparency.
Snowden left the CIA in 2009 and began work for Dell, a private contractor, inside an NSA facility on a US military base in Japan . Snowden remained on the Dell payroll until early 2013. Persons familiar with the 2013 government investigation into Snowden's history said that Snowden had downloaded sensitive NSA material in April 2012. NSA Director Keith Alexander has said that Snowden held a position at the NSA for the twelve months prior to his next job as a consultant, with top secret Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances. Snowden took a six-day Certified Ethical Hacker training course in 2010 in India. USIS completed a background check on Snowden in 2011.
Snowden described his life as "very comfortable", earning a salary of "roughly US$200,000". At the time of his departure from the United States in May 2013, he had been employed by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton for less than three months inside the NSA at the Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center in Hawaii, earning $122,000. While intelligence officials have described his position there as a "system administrator", Snowden has said he was an "infrastructure analyst", which meant that his job was to look for new ways to break into Internet and telephone traffic around the world. He said he had taken a pay cut to work at Booz Allen, and that he sought employment in order to gather data on NSA surveillance around the world so he could leak it. The firm said Snowden's employment was terminated on June 10, 2013 "for violations of the firm's code of ethics and firm policy".
According to Reuters, a source "with detailed knowledge on the matter" stated that Booz Allen's hiring screeners found some details of his education "did not check out precisely", but decided to hire him anyway; Reuters stated that the element which triggered these concerns, or the manner in which Snowden satisfied the concerns, were not known. The résumé stated that Snowden attended computer-related classes at Johns Hopkins University. A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins said that the university did not find records to show that Snowden attended the university, and suggested that he may instead have attended Advanced Career Technologies, a private for-profit organization which operated as "Computer Career Institute at Johns Hopkins". The University College of the University of Maryland acknowledged that Snowden had attended a summer session at a UM campus in Asia. Snowden's resume stated that he estimated that he would receive a University of Liverpool computer security master's degree in 2013. The university said that Snowden registered for an online master's degree program in computer security in 2011 but that "he is not active in his studies and has not completed the program".
Snowden first made contact with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist working at The Guardian, in late 2012. He contacted Greenwald anonymously and said he had "sensitive documents" that he would like to share. Greenwald found the measures that the source asked him to take to secure their communications, such as encrypting email, too annoying to employ. Snowden then contacted documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in January 2013. According to Poitras, Snowden chose to contact her after seeing her report on NSA whistleblower William Binney in The New York Times. The Guardian reported that what originally attracted Snowden to both Greenwald and Poitras was a Salon article penned by Greenwald detailing how Poitras' controversial films had made her a "target of the government". Greenwald began working with Snowden in either February or in April after Poitras asked Greenwald to meet her in New York City, at which point Snowden began providing documents to them both. Barton Gellman, writing for The Washington Post, says his first "direct contact" was on May 16, 2013. According to Gellman, Snowden approached Greenwald after the Post declined to guarantee publication of all 41 of the PRISM PowerPoint slides within 72 hours and publish online an encrypted code allowing Snowden the ability to later prove that he was the source.
According to Gellman, prior to their first meeting in person, Snowden wrote, "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end." Snowden also told Gellman that until the articles were published, the journalists working with him would also be at mortal risk from the United States Intelligence Community "if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure and make them the sole owner of this information."
In May 2013, Snowden was permitted temporary leave from his position at the NSA in Hawaii, on the pretext of receiving treatment for his epilepsy. In mid-May Snowden gave an electronic interview to Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum which was published weeks later by Der Spiegel. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong, where he was staying when the initial articles about the NSA that he had leaked were published. Among other specifics, Snowden divulged the existence and functions of several classified US surveillance programs and their scope, including notably PRISM, NSA call database, and Boundless Informant. He also revealed details of Tempora, a British black-ops surveillance program run by the NSA's British partner, GCHQ. In July 2013, Greenwald stated that Snowden had additional sensitive information about the NSA that he has chosen not to make public, including "very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do". In September 2013, the existence of a classified decryption program codenamed Bullrun was revealed.
By October 2013, Snowden's disclosures had created tensions between the US and some of its close allies after they revealed the US had spied on countries including France, Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Britain, China, and Spain, as well as 35 world leaders.
NSA Director Keith Alexander later estimated that Snowden was in the process of leaking anywhere from 50,000-200,000 documents. Most of the documents focus on the NSA mass surveillance program in the US. Included are documents about surveillance programs of Great Britain Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Israel's Urim SIGINT Base (ISNU), the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSE), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS).
The Guardian's editor-in-chief said in November 2013 that only 1 percent of the documents released had been published. Officials warned that "the worst is yet to come", a sentiment echoed by Glenn Greenwald and by Lon Snowden.
An NSA mission statement leaked from the Snowden cache in November 2013 ("Sigint Strategy 2012–2016") affirmed that the NSA plans for continued expansion of surveillance activities: to "dramatically increase mastery of the global network" and "acquire the capabilities to gather intelligence on anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Snowden's identity was made public by The Guardian at his request on June 9, 2013. He explained: "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong." He added that by revealing his identity he hoped to protect his colleagues from being subjected to a hunt to determine who had been responsible for the leaks. According to Poitras, who filmed the interview with Snowden in Hong Kong, he had initially not wanted to be seen on camera, because "he didn't want the story to be about him." Poitras says she convinced him it was necessary to have him give an account of the leaked documents' significance on film: "I knew that the mainstream media interpretation would be predictable and narrow, but because to have somebody who understands how this technology works, who is willing to risk their life to expose it to the public, and that we could hear that articulated, would reach people in ways that the documents themselves wouldn't."  Snowden explained his actions saying: "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." When Snowden met with representatives of human rights organizations on July 12, he said:
The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair....
I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."
Snowden said that in the past, whistleblowers had been 'destroyed by the experience', and that he wanted to "embolden others to step forward" by demonstrating that "they can win". In October, Snowden spoke out again on his motivations for the leaks in an interview with the New York Times, saying that the system for reporting problems does not work. "You have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it", Snowden explained, and pointed out the lack of whistleblower protection for government contractors, the use of the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers, and his belief that had he used internal mechanisms to 'sound the alarm', his revelations "would have been buried forever".
Flight from the US
Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong alone on May 20, 2013. Snowden was bound for the Republic of Ecuador via Moscow on June 23, as Hong Kong authorities were deliberating the US government's request for his extradition. He left in secret.
Snowden explained his choice of Hong Kong thus:
NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored. There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration.
Snowden said that he was predisposed "to seek asylum in a country with shared values", and that his ideal choice would be Iceland. The International Modern Media Institute, an Icelandic freedom of speech advocacy organization, issued a statement offering Snowden legal advice and assistance in gaining asylum. Iceland's ambassador to China, Kristín A. Arnadóttir, pointed out that asylum could not be granted to Snowden, because Icelandic law requires that such applications be made from within the country.
Snowden vowed to challenge any extradition attempt by the US government, and had reportedly approached Hong Kong human rights lawyers. Snowden told the South China Morning Post that he planned to remain in Hong Kong until "asked to leave", adding that his intention was to let the "courts and people of Hong Kong" decide his fate. According to Glenn Greenwald, information about US intelligence operations in China that Snowden gave to the South China Morning Post while in Hong Kong were motivated by "a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China." In late August the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Snowden was living at the Russian consulate shortly before his departure from Hong Kong to Moscow. Anatoly Kucherena rejected the Kommersant story, stating that Snowden "did not enter into any communication with our diplomats when he was in Hong Kong." Kucherena became Snowden's lawyer in July and was then head of the Russian Interior ministry's public council, in addition to serving as a member of the public council for the Federal Security Service (FSB). In early September, however, Russian president Vladimir Putin acknowledged that "Mr. Snowden first appeared in Hong Kong and met with our diplomatic representatives."
As speculation mounted that Snowden's departure from Hong Kong was imminent, media reports emerged that the British government warned airlines that Snowden was not welcome in the United Kingdom. On June 20 and 21, a representative of WikiLeaks said that a chartered jet had been prepared to transport Snowden to Iceland, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced that he was brokering a discussion between Snowden and the Icelandic government for possible asylum.
On June 23, US officials said that Snowden's US passport had been revoked. On the same day, Snowden boarded the commercial Aeroflot flight SU213 to Moscow, accompanied by Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks. Hong Kong authorities said that Snowden had not been detained as requested by the United States, because the United States' extradition request had not fully complied with Hong Kong law, and there was no legal basis to prevent Snowden from leaving.[Notes 1] On June 24, Julian Assange said that WikiLeaks had paid for Snowden's lodging in Hong Kong and his flight out.
On 23 June 2013, Snowden landed in Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport, en route to Ecuador. On the same day, before departing Hong Kong, US officials annulled his passport. Snowden remained in the Sheremetyevo transit zone for 39 days until being granted temporary asylum by the Russian government at the end of July 2013.
In a statement made on 1 July, Snowden said: "Although I am convicted of nothing, [the US government] has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum."
Although Snowden had a seat reserved to fly on 24 June through Cuba to exile in Latin America, he did not board that flight.
Morales plane incident
On 1 July 2013, president Evo Morales of Bolivia, who had been attending a conference of gas-exporting countries in Russia, suggested during an interview with Russia Today that he would be 'willing to consider a request' for asylum. The following day, Morales' plane en route to Bolivia was rerouted to Austria and reportedly searched there after France, Spain and Italy denied access to their airspace. US officials had raised suspicions that Snowden may have been on board. Morales blamed the US for putting pressure on European countries, and said that the grounding of his plane was a violation of international law.
Snowden had applied for political asylum to 20 countries by 1 July. A statement attributed to Snowden also contended that the US administration, and specifically Vice President Joe Biden, had pressured the governments of these countries to refuse his petition for asylum. In the 1 July statement published by WikiLeaks, Snowden accused the US government of "using citizenship as a weapon" and using what he described as "old, bad tools of political aggression". Citing Obama's promise to not allow "wheeling and dealing" over the case, Snowden commented "This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal [sic]penalty of exile."
Snowden made a second batch of applications for asylum to 6 more countries several days later, but declined to name them citing prior interference by US officials. Finland, Germany, India, Poland, Norway, Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands cited technical grounds for not considering the application, saying that applications for asylum to these countries must be made from within the countries' borders or at border stations. Ecuador had initially offered Snowden a temporary travel document but later withdrew it; on 1 July, president Rafael Correa said the decision to issue the offer had been "a mistake".
Russian president Putin said that Snowden's arrival in Moscow was "a surprise" and "like an unwanted Christmas gift". Putin said that Snowden remained in the transit area of Sheremetyevo, noted that he had not committed any crime on Russian soil, and declared that Snowden was free to leave and should do so. He added that Russia's intelligence agencies neither "had worked, nor were working with" Snowden. Putin's claims were received skeptically by some observers.
Putin said on 1 July that if Snowden wanted to be granted asylum in Russia, Snowden would be required to "stop his work aimed at harming our American partners". A spokesman for Putin subsequently said that Snowden had withdrawn his asylum application upon learning of the conditions.
In a 12 July meeting at Sheremetyevo Airport with representatives of human rights organizations and lawyers, organized in part by the Russian government, Snowden said he was accepting all offers of asylum that he had already received or would receive in the future, noting that his Venezuela's "asylee status was now formal", he also said he would request asylum in Russia until he resolved his travel problems. Russian Federal Migration Service officials confirmed on 16 July that Snowden had submitted an application to them for temporary asylum. According to Kucherena, Snowden agreed to meet Putin's condition for granting asylum, and would not further harm US interests 'by releasing more intelligence secrets'. On 23 July Kucherena said his client intended to settle in Russia. Snowden explained that he applied for asylum in Russia because, with no direct flights from Moscow to asylum offers in Latin America, he did not feel he could safely travel to them, and claimed that the US had pressured countries along his route to "hand him over".
Amid media reports in early July 2013 attributed to US administration sources that Obama's one-on-one meeting with Putin, ahead of a G20 meeting in St Petersburg scheduled for September, was in doubt due to Snowden's protracted sojourn in Russia, top US officials repeatedly made it clear to Moscow that Snowden should immediately be returned to the United States to face justice. Snowden needed asylum, according to his lawyer, because "he faces persecution by the US government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment." In a letter to Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov dated 23 July, US Attorney General Eric Holder sought to eliminate the "asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise": he assured the Russian government that the US would not seek the death penalty for Snowden irrespective of the charges he might eventually face and said Snowden would be issued a limited validity passport for returning to the US, and that upon his return, Snowden would benefit from legal and constitutional safeguards and not be tortured, as "torture is unlawful in the United States". The same day, the Russian president's spokesman reiterated the Kremlin's position that it would "not hand anyone over"; he also noted that Putin was not personally involved in the matter as Snowden "had not made any request that would require examination by the head of state" and that the issue was being handled through talks between the FSB and the FBI.
Temporary asylum in Russia
After spending more than a month in the transit section, Snowden left the airport on 1 August after being granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year, an asylum that could be extended indefinitely on an annual basis. According to his lawyer, Snowden went to an undisclosed location kept secret for security reasons.
In response to the asylum grant, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US administration was "extremely disappointed" by the Russian government's decision and that the meeting scheduled for September between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin was under reconsideration. Some US legislators urged the president to take a tough stand against Russia, possibly including a US boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. On 7 August, the White House announced that Obama had canceled the meeting previously planned with Putin in Moscow citing lack of progress on a series of issues that included Russia's granting Snowden temporary asylum. Following cancellation of the bilateral talks, Putin's foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said they were "disappointed" and that it was clear to him that the decision was due to the situation around Snowden, which they "had not created"; Ushakov alleged that the US had been avoiding signing an extradition agreement and had "invariably" used its absence as a pretext for denying Russian extradition requests.
In late July 2013, Lon Snowden said he believed his son would be better off staying in Russia, and didn't believe he would receive a fair trial in the US. In mid October, he visited his son in Moscow, later telling the press that he was pleased with Edward's situation, and still believed Russia was the best choice for his asylum, saying he wouldn't have to worry about people "rushing across the border to render him". Snowden commented that his son found living in Russia "comfortable", and Moscow "modern and sophisticated".
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern said that Snowden did not give any computer files to Russia or China. American officials said that they have no proof of Russia or China having received such files. In an October 2013 interview, Snowden maintained that he did not bring any classified material into Russia "because it wouldn’t serve the public interest". He added "there’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents".
Wikileaks released video of Snowden on 11 October taken during the Sam Adams Award reception in Moscow, his first public appearance in three months. Former US government officials attending the ceremony said that, contrary to claims from the US government, Snowden did not appear to be under the control of 'local security forces'. The whistle-blower group said that he was in good spirits, looked "remarkably well", and that he still believes he was right to release the NSA documents. In the video, Snowden said "people all over the world are coming to realize" that the NSA's surveillance programs put people in danger, hurt the US and its economy, and "limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and associate freely" as well as putting people "at risk of coming into conflict with our own government".
On 31 October, Snowden met with German lawmaker Hans-Christian Ströbele, a visit prompted by a recent leak revealing NSA surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone for the past decade. Snowden was invited to testify in Germany to "assist investigations" into the alleged surveillance of the German leader by explaining how the leaked documents 'fit together'; according to Stroebele, Snowden showed he "knew a lot" about the matter. After the visit, Snowden indicated a willingness to testify, though not from Moscow as Germany requested. Snowden said he would rather give testimony before the US Congress, his second choice being Berlin.
Wikileaks' representative Sarah Harrison, who accompanied Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow, left Russia for Germany in early November after waiting until she felt confident he had "established himself and was free from the interference of any government." Her lawyers had advised she not return to her home in the UK, fearing she would be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws. In a statement released 6 November upon arrival in Germany, Harrison wrote "I...negotiated [Snowden's] safe exit from Hong Kong to take up his legal right to seek asylum. I was travelling with him on our way to Latin America when the United States revoked his passport, stranding him in Russia." Journalist Glenn Greenwald commented on Snowden's Russian asylum: "[Snowden] didn’t choose to be there. He was trying to get transit to Latin America, and then the US revoked his passport and threatened other countries out of offering Snowden safe passage."
NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was also charged with espionage for leaking classified materials, said he believes Snowden would not be able to return to the US in the "forseeable future", as he has "essentially been declared enemy of the State number 1, exhibit number 1". After his recent visit with German officials, Snowden commented that he was seeking asylum 'in a "democratic" country' such as Germany or France, and wanted to leave Russia at the end of his year-long asylum.
Criminal prosecution and investigation
On 14 June 2013, United States federal prosecutors charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”, the last two charges having been brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.
Response from US officials has been varied; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper condemned Snowden's actions as having done "huge, grave damage" to US intelligence capabilities, while United States Secretary of State John Kerry stated that "in some cases" the NSA had gone "too far" in some of its surveillance activities and promised that it would be stopped.
In December 2013, US President Barack Obama said that the leaks had "identified some areas of legitimate concern". Referring to media reports, he also said some of the NSA's activities had been "highly sensationalized" and "painted in a way that is not accurate."
A United Nations committee unanimously adopted an 'anti-spying resolution' to 'protect the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance' in the wake of reports that 35 foreign leaders were subjects of US eavesdropping. The resolution "unequivocally states that the same rights that people have off-line must also be protected online."
In the US, Snowden's actions precipitated an intense debate on privacy and warrantless domestic surveillance. Author of the Patriot Act, Jim Sensenbrenner, submitted a proposal on 29 October 2013 called the "USA Freedom Act" which would end the bulk collection of American's metadata and reform the FISA court.
German "Whistleblower Prize"
Edward Snowden was awarded the biennial German "whistleblower prize" in August 2013, in absentia, with an accompanying award equal to 3,000 euro. Established in 1999, the award is sponsored by the German branch of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and by the Association of German Scientists. Organizers in Berlin said the prize was to acknowledge his "bold efforts to expose the massive and unsuspecting monitoring and storage of communication data, which cannot be accepted in democratic societies". Snowden responded to the award, saying it was "a great honor to be recognized for the public good created by this act of whistleblowing", and that it was not him, but the public who "affected this powerful change to abrogation of basic constitutional rights by secret agencies".
Sam Adams Award
The Sam Adams Award was presented to Snowden by a group of four American former intelligence officers and whistleblowers in October 2013. After two months as an asylee, Snowden made his first public appearance in Moscow to accept the award, a candlestick holder meant to symbolize "bringing light to dark corners". One of the presenters, FBI whistleblower Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, told The Nation "We believe that Snowden exemplifies Sam Adams’s courage, persistence and devotion to truth—no matter what the consequences. We wanted Snowden to know that, as opposed to the daily vitriol from the US government and mainstream media, 60 percent of the United States supports him, including thousands in the national security and intelligence agencies where we used to work." Radack was joined by Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, ex-NSA executive Thomas Drake and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley.
Guardian "Person of the year" 2013
The owner of a secure email service which Snowden used, Lavabit, shut down the service after being forced to release the secure keys to his site to the FBI, exposing all 410,000 users to FBI's resulting ability to read all email routed via Lavabit. The move was mirrored days later by a similar email provider called Silent Circle. Three months later, owners of the two companies joined forces and announced their new email service, "Dark Mail Alliance", designed to be resistant to government surveillance.
Depiction in popular culture
Snowden's passage through Hong Kong inspired a local production team to produce a low-budget five-minute film entitled Verax. The film, depicting the time Snowden spent hiding in the Mira Hotel while being unsuccessfully tracked by the CIA and China's Ministry of State Security, was uploaded to YouTube on June 25, 2013.
A dramatic thriller about Edward Snowden, Classified: The Edward Snowden Story, is scheduled for release on 19 September 2014. The film is being crowdfunded and plans are to release the final product as a free download. The feature-length film is directed by Jason Bourque and produced by Travis Doering; actor Kevin Zegers plays the character of Edward Snowden. Michael Shanks stars as journalist Glenn Greenwald and Carmen Aguirre plays Laura Poitras.
In September 2013, the TV series South Park parodied the Snowden revelations, with Eric Cartman standing in for Snowden. The episode, titled "Let Go, Let Gov", received the highest ratings for the show in two years.
- 2013 global surveillance disclosures
- Classified information in the United States
- Extraordinary rendition
- Information sensitivity
- List of people granted asylum
- List of people who have lived at airports
- List of United States extradition treaties
- List of whistleblowers
- Martin and Mitchell defection
- Mass surveillance
- NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–07)
- NSA whistleblowers
- Stellar Wind (code name)
- Terrorist Surveillance Program
- Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen argued that government officials did not issue a provisional arrest warrant for Snowden due to "discrepancies and missing information" in the paperwork sent by US authorities. Yuen explained that Snowden's full name was inconsistent, and his US passport number was also missing. Hong Kong also wanted more details of the charges and evidence against Snowden to make sure it was not a political case. Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said he spoke to US Attorney General Eric Holder by phone to reinforce the request for details "absolutely necessary" for detention of Snowden. Yuen said "As the US government had failed to provide the information by the time Snowden left Hong Kong, it was impossible for the Department of Justice to apply to a court for a temporary warrant of arrest. In fact, even at this time, the US government has still not provided the details we asked for."
- Greenwald, Glenn; MacAskill, Ewen; Poitras, Laura (June 10, 2013). "Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations". The Guardian (London). "The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell."
- "Former U.S. officials give NSA whistleblower Snowden award in Russia". Haaretz. 10 October 2013.
- Edward Snowden a 'hero' for NSA disclosures, Wikipedia founder says | World news | The Guardian
- Why Edward Snowden Is a Hero. The New Yorker.
- Oliver Stone defends Edward Snowden over NSA revelations. The Guardian. (July 5, 2013).
- Daniel Ellsberg: Edward Snowden Was Right To Leave The U.S. Huffington Post.
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- Margulies, Joseph. "The Promise of May, the Betrayal of June, and the Larger Lesson of Manning and Snowden." (Archive) Verdict. Justia. July 17, 2013.
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- Edward Snowden at the Internet Movie Database
- "DNI Statement on Recent Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information." (Archive) Office of the Director of National Intelligence. June 6, 2013. PDF Version (Archive)
- "Global Surveillance. An annotated and categorized "overview of the revelations following the leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. There are also some links to comments and followups". By Oslo University Library.